<i>By Meg Cichon

Source: http://goo.gl/NggCc</i>

While travelling the vast, scenic landscapes of Northern Peru, you would be hard-pressed to find running water or a light fixture. So imagine how surprised you would be if you stumbled upon a group of volunteers erecting a wind turbine as you hiked through the mountains in Huamachuco.

Continue your travels toward the coast into the city of Trujillo and you’ll find the headquarters for the non-profit volunteer mission WindAid. Here, international participants work with engineers to build wind turbines from scratch, piece by piece — a three-week process. Each 2.5-kW turbine costs approximately $15,000, funds for which come from volunteer fees (costs typically run $1,950 per person for the five-week mission).

Sites are nominated from either the community itself or someone working closely with the community. “If the community is interested and desires the turbine, there is wind, there is access, the terrain is acceptable to work with, then we can look at developing a project there” said Caroline Evans, Engineer at WindAid.

WindAid focuses on communities that have limited or no access to the national grid, since installing a turbine is significantly cheaper than extending transmission lines. According to the WindAid website, the electricity grid in Peru leaves about 70 percent of the rural population without electricity.

Wind turbines in very remote areas, like Huamachuco, are usually installed to power a school or building in the center of a community. The centralized location allows wider access to a battery-charging station that is installed along with the turbine. Residents can then use that station to charge cell phones and other electrical items.

Electricity costs are determined by a group of citizens that are elected to oversee the turbine; they are called the Juntos Eolica. This group receives a lock-box with two keys to store money that is paid to purchase electricity generated by the turbine. Residents also are given information about buying their own battery system. This would allow them to use their own personal battery to provide electricity for their home, and they can simply walk to the wind system to recharge.

WindAid is also working with the Peace Corps to start a comprehnsive two-year training program with the Juntos Eolica. Through the training project, the elected community members would learn all the ins and outs of how to maintain, monitor and optimize the turbine.

Currently, volunteers provide bare-bones training to just three operators so that they are familiar with the electrical system of the turbine. WindAid also contracts two check-up visits annually, and if issues arise, recipients are free to contact the organization at any time.

Currently, WindAid has two more installations planned for October and December of 2011 and 11 planned for 2012. Perhaps you’ll run into them on your travels, or maybe you can lend a hand to spread the importance of renewable energy.